2011 National Book Award Finalists

Today the 2011 National Book Award Finalists were announced on Oregon Public Radio.  Winners will be announced on November 16.

Young People’s Literature

  • My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
  • Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
  • Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, by Albert Martin
  • [EDIT to withdraw**] Shine, by Lauren Myracle
  • Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt
  • [EDIT to add*] Chime, by Franny Billingsley

Poetry

  • Head Off & Split, by Nikky Finney
  • The Chameleon Couch, by Yusef Komunyakaa
  • Double Shadow, by Carl Phillips
  • Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems: 2007 – 2010, by Adrienne Rich
  • Devotions, by Bruce Smith

 Nonfiction

  • The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, by Deborah Baker
  • Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution, by Mary Gabriel
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
  • A Life of Reinvention: Malcolm X, by Manning Marable
  • Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss

Fiction

  • The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak
  • The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht (my review here)
  • The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
  • Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman
  • Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward

As usual, I don’t have a lot to say about any of the categories other than fiction (and even there, I don’t have a lot).  Of the titles for young people, my wife has talked to me about Shine, which apparently is about a hate crime and apparently describes it fairly graphically.  Some parents were in an uproar, saying things like we shouldn’t let our children see such things.  Apparently the first time a child should confront a hate crime is when one is actually being perpetrated.  To acknowledge in a book for young people that kids are dying all over the country due to hate is apparently inappropriate.  From my tone, you can see I disagree.  I just hope the book itself is good and isn’t getting nominated simply because of the issue.

Of the fiction titles, the only one I have read is The Tiger’s Wife.  I hoped Eugenides’ new (is it too new? — I just checked and no it isn’t; books published between December 10, 2010 and November 30, 2011 were eligible) book would be on there, as I wanted more of an excuse to read it sooner than later.  I have Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (again, my wife got it for me months ago), and I see I need to pull it out.  I don’t really know much about the other titles, but I’m not, at this point, dying to go read the whole list.  That’s more due to past experience with the NBA (and, in particular, the Booker) as it is to these books.  For the record, I found enjoyment in The Tiger’s Wife, but I didn’t love it.

*UPDATE (October 12, 2011)

What an embarrasment!  In the comments below, Michael, a local Mookse and Gripeser, brought this to my attention: It turns out that in the YA category, Lauren Myracle’s Shine was not supposed to be a finalist.  There was a miscommunication — obviously, and the judges’ real finalist was Franny Billingsley’s Chime.  (Click here for the BBC news article.)  ShineChime, I guess that we should have seen this coming since it seems 9 out of 10 YA novels have those similar one-word titles.  Yes, a miscommunication, and apparently several misteps along the way that prevented some kind of double check.  They have decided not to eliminate Myracle at this point; rather, they have added Chime as the sixth finalist.  I can appreciate the organizers’ desire to avoid embarrassing Myracle by removing her from consideration, but, honestly . . .  She isn’t going to win since the judges didn’t make her a finalist in the first place.  Also, can she ever really use the “National Book Award Finalist” in good faith?  Well, to limit the embarrasment, the public line is not that it was a mistake to include Shine but that the judges decided to add Chime to the list as well.

**UPDATE (October 17, 2011)

Today Lauren Myracle withdrew her book from the list of finalists, apparently at the request the National Book Foundation (see the PW report here).  What a devastating week this must have been for her, all due to major failures on the part of the National Book Foundation.  The error reportedly occurred when the organization misheard the judges report the finalists over the phone!  What a stupid way to pass a list on.  And how stupid that there was never a double check.  There will be from now on, I assume (perhaps wrongly).  This whole thing was entirely foreseeable and avoidable, but I guess most stupid errors are.  The National Book Foundation is rightfully embarrassed.  I wonder what changed their mind: they were initially going to keep Shine on the list, though already tainted.  Honestly, it’s a bit surprising Myracle didn’t voluntarily withdraw sooner, and without prompting from the Foundation.  It’s not like she was going to win, and I have a hard time imagining ever wanting to publish the next book with the “National Book Award finalist” blurb, knowing that it was more of a clerical error.  I know sales are sales, but I have a hard time believing that was the motivating factor.  It is possible that Myracle was more interested in making sure her book got some publicity because of its content: hate crimes against gay youths.  It seem reasonable to me to keep the book there, regardless of the embarrassment, so that some people will at least consider its message.  And some benefit came about from this anyway: as partial penance, the National Book Foundation is donating $5000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a LGTB rights organization (click here for their page).

14 thoughts on “2011 National Book Award Finalists”

  1. I think I’ve mentioned that I didn’t like The Tiger’s Wife at all, and I haven’t met anyone who has liked it or even understood it! I don’t know the other fiction titles, but will now check them out–thanks, Trevor. As for Eugenides’ new book, The Marriage Plot, I picked it up yesterday despite having read some rather tepid reviews of it. I am loving it so far, and I can’t imagine anyone who has an English degree not laughing out loud at the descriptions of the literary theory classes. Eugenides has captured perfectly the “Emperor’s New Clothes” aspect of such courses as the protagonist struggles to understand what everyone is talking about. Very entertaining so far.

  2. I can’t say that I am excited by any of the fiction titles, the only category that interests me. Reviews of The Tiger’s Wife are enough to convince me that it is not my kind of book — I’ll wait for your thoughts on Binocular Vision which seems the most appealing of the other four.

  3. Michae says:

    Trevor,

    This is Michael from the South Orange Library weighing in: Perhaps the reason you’re surprised that such a graphic novel could get nominated for the NBAs is because it wasn’t supposed to be. There apparently was a mix-up at the NBAs this year regarding “Shine.” There’s another YA book called “Chime” that was the REAL nominee, but it got lost in translation and the powers that be heard it as “Shine.” The NBAs decided to add both titles, so now there’s 6 nominees in the YA category.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-15286747

  4. Trevor says:

    Shoot, that’s embarrassing for all involved, isn’t it! I’ll update the above!

  5. Trevor says:

    New developments above.

  6. Mrs. Berrett says:

    People keep commenting on Myracle’s class, but I’m with you in thinking she should have withdrawn already.

    If this were one of the other authors on the list, I don’t think it would get as much attention, but Myracle is one of the accused members of the YA Mafia/YA clique. Her cohorts are raising quite a hullabaloo and, while I understand their outrage, I feel they’re taking it too far. Her book was not deemed good enough to be on the list. The National Book Foundation handled things poorly, but I don’t see that as a reason to promote and market a book as something it is not.

  7. Trevor says:

    I feel much the same. Of course, the root of the problem is the stupid error in the first place, and it seems harsh to then criticize the victim of the stupidity — but I am left wondering why didn’t she voluntarily withdraw from the outset? Again, I have to stretch a bit and say that it was to benefit a message and not her book. Who knows?

    That said, I agree completely that had it been another of the books on the list, there would be sympathy but probably not this complete outrage. Perhaps outrage is appropriate, of course.

    What a season for book awards!

  8. Mrs. Berrett says:

    Here’s a little post by Libba Bray (also a YA Mafia member, and the wife of Lauren’s agent) about the whole kerfuffle:

    http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/62266.html

    Based on Myracles effort to ensure that the NBA will donate to her cause, I think you’re right in assuming she was pushing the book for its message and not for herself. Her books sell well (she’s the number one banned author in the US) and this whole thing is going to boost her sales even further so I doubt money is the issue.

    Also in reading Libba’s post I see the other side. I wasn’t aware of the public and lengthy manner the argument was taking place. Shame on the NBA. They’ve distracted a lot of attention from deserving books.

  9. Mrs. Berrett says:

    I should point out, I adore Libba Bray. She’s incredibly funny and the books she writes are so unique. However, I have not read any Myracle.

  10. Trevor says:

    Shame on the NBA. They’ve distracted a lot of attention from deserving books.

    True. I haven’t been following this too closely, so all the back-and-forth last week was missed by me. Strange that no one could think of a way to deal with this better. I enjoyed Libba Bray’s post, and I agree that this whole thing has been undeserved by Myracle. But what is this . . . ?

    Is asking an author you have embarrassed in multiple media outlets to RECUSE herself in order to rectify YOUR STUPID MISTAKE, “preserving the integrity” of the award? Because it reads like an unconscionable, cowardly move to me.
    Is that kind of like when Wall Street says, “Oh, sorry we screwed up the economy, jobless folks, but could you, like, not block the access to my high-in-the-sky comfy office where I blow my nose on freshly minted twenties while crying that I am the victim of class warfare by the poor?”

    I suppose it is . . . err . . the same.

    In full disclosure, I work in one of the high-rises that opens right onto Zuccotti Park. Now where is that “kleenex” box?

    Well, I for one hope that the embarrassing situation can be put behind us and that we can look at all of the books, Myracle’s included, on their own.

  11. Trevor says:

    Oh, one thing more. I’ve read a lot of places that the Foundation should have let the error pass without mention. That’s far from right as Billingsley’s book would be the innocent victime there. I’ve heard even more who’ve said they should have kept mum on the error and just said that, hey, in hindsight, we also thought Billingsley’s book was good and would like to add it. Again, that makes Billingsley’s book an innocent victim by making it seem like an afterthought and not one actually in the running.

    I don’t know what I would have done, but once the stupid and inexcusable error was made it seems the only correct thing for the NBA to do for Billingsley’s sake as the true finalist was admit to the stupid and inexcusable error, even though it is devastating for Myracle.

    Now, how to handle from that point on is another issue. The error is out there, feelings have been hurt (though a book and author takes their rightful place) — how would you handle this situation? Saying Myracle’s book could remain a finalist “on its merits” was decent, but we could still see through that — it still wasn’t really a finalist. Oh, stupid stupid mistake . . .

  12. I was very pleased to see The Buddha in the Attic on the list. It was a 5 star book for me.

    http://www.1morechapter.com/2011/09/29/the-buddha-in-the-attic-by-julie-otsuka/

  13. Tony S. says:

    I’m reading ‘The Apothecary’ by Maile Meloy now and am finding it stranger than anything that this bok did not make the YA Fiction list.

  14. Trevor says:

    That’s good news for me, Tony S. I have The Apothecary and am glad to hear good things. I bought it on Meloy’s name alone (as we did her brother’s recent book), and I didn’t know if anyone at all felt one way or the other about it. Perhaps hers was the real sixth book and the judges felt that it would be unfair to suggest Myracle’s was better??

Leave a Reply